Defender-centric

The Defender-centric approach lies at the core of our Human Rights Innovation Initiative. This approach stems from an overarching principle and driving force we have at Civil Rights Defenders: we empower people.

We rely on our partners because they are close to the people, they have better knowledge and understanding of the situation on the ground, they are the ones that can really take action, and the ones that stay when the storm has passed, ensuring governments do not threat people’s rights again.

We aim to ensure that people can enjoy their civil and political rights worldwide. In order to do so, we believe that local actors are in the best position to guarantee those rights are protected. Our partners are Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) who morally, financially and explicitly promote human rights in their local context. We rely on our partners because they are close to the people, they have better knowledge and understanding of the situation on the ground, they are the ones that can really take action, and the ones that stay when the storm has passed, ensuring governments do not threat people’s rights again. HRDs working in authoritarian countries are more often than not persecuted, threatened, harassed, imprisoned, and even assassinated. Our partners risk their life to protect and promote human rights. Civil Rights Defenders directly empower them by providing trainings, resources, and expertise that can increase their security and impact of their hard work. Together with our partners we monitor government authorities and seek accountability for human rights violations and crimes. We also lobby and run advocacy campaigns to make sure the general public, national and international decision makers are reached when human rights are under attack, be it in Sweden, Cuba, Azerbaijan or Uganda.

We have over 200 partners spread across four continents.

It has been 41 years since the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights came into force. Still repressive regimes do not hesitate to use any available tool to go against those rights. This means that we have to come up with innovative ways to protect our HRDs. That is why in 2013 we launched the Natalia Project, the world’s first alarm system for HRDs at risk. 
Following the success of the Natalia Project, the Human Rights Innovation Initiative aims to further support civil and political rights, and increase the security and impact of our HRDs through novel approaches, particularly leveraging digital solutions.

Many organisations are currently working on innovation projects, however often the solution, or the call for proposals, are coming from headquarters in the global North. These, albeit well-meaning actors, too often lack an understanding of the local context, what the actual problems are and how they are prioritised. This is key.

The local partners know best. Which is why we source ideas from them, acknowledging that our partners comprehend their social, cultural, political, and economical environment better than anyone else.

The Human Rights Innovation Initiative is therefore anchored in a defender-centric approach. Meaning that our partners own their problems and are at the heart of the solution. In other words, we innovate for and with our partners, using a bottom-up approach, thus ensuring local ownership. 
The local partners know best. Which is why we source ideas from them, acknowledging that our partners comprehend their social, cultural, political, and economical environment better than anyone else. Local communities can inform us what solutions might or might not work. Therefore, the ideas we decide to develop are grounded in our partners’ priorities and local circumstances. After all, HRDs will be the ones who ultimately benefit from an innovative solution, so by including them in the innovation process we avoid creating a white elephant, or creating a donor-driven process.

This week, in the spirit of the defender-centric approach, we will host our first workshops together with local partners. We aim to source ideas out of their problems and opportunities, while also giving them tools to keep finding ideas for how to improve their security and impact. Who knows, perhaps in a few months time we can present a solution based on what took place at one of these workshops. What we do know is that, over time, the defender-centric approach is a game changer for our partners.

Author: Antonela Tedesco

Editor: Mathias Antonsson